As a new principal ambassador fellow, Christopher Pearson hopes to bring a small-town voice to the federal level.

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Conversations about student equity and diversity often focus on large schools in urban areas. Christopher Pearson, the superintendent of Mount Vernon’s Conway School District, wants to shift that converstion toward the small schools, the ones in rural areas where populations are quickly changing.

He now has a new forum for that issue:  Washington D.C.  Pearson has been named one of the four principal ambassadors for the U.S. Department of Education this year. Pearson is the only representative from a rural area, and from the West Coast.

Pearson, who last year was Washington state’s principal of the year (he advanced to the superintendent job this fall)  spoke with Education Lab Tuesday about his experiences working in a primarily immigrant, low-income school, what he hopes to accomplish in Washington D.C., and his goals for his district’s future.

Q: What led you to apply for the principal ambassador fellow position?

Christopher Pearson, courtesy of U.S. Department of Education
Christopher Pearson, courtesy of U.S. Department of Education

A: Part of it was the learning involved, being able to learn more about how things work at the policy level. The other was advocacy for principals at the federal level, and the opportunity to network with different principals.

Q: How did your time as principal at West View Elementary in Burlington shape your thoughts about education?

A: It was a great experience. We were one of three schools to be awarded a (federal) Turnaround School Improvement Grant. Being able to create a story for a school and define who we are, that was a great opportunity. If you look at schools in Eastern Washington, Sunnyside, Pasco, or in the Skagit Valley, we are, in some cases, majority-minority schools. And that is happening all over the country now. They don’t have the resources that a large urban school has, and they also don’t have the wherewithal to respond to students coming from different backgrounds. And those kids really deserve our best.

Q: What do you see as the future of these small, rural schools where the student population is changing?

A: This is the norm now. These are all of our kids. No matter whether the faces change over time or our populations change, these are all our kids. These kids are bringing more value to classrooms. They are bilingual, and that’s a 21st century skill. We see these differences as strengths…. I’m happy to be a part of that conversation.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in Washington D.C.?

A: I hope to facilitate a principal roundtable, to talk about equity and accountability. It’s a way to talk with the federal government and tell them what works and what doesn’t. Having the opportunity to give feedback is really exciting. Being able to play the role of liaison of principals in the field is one of the big opportunities for me. Hopefully they will continue.